There are many questions to be answered this offseason. How much difference will a new coaching staff make? What roster changes will be made? Which Seahawks will return? Who will they draft? Which free agents will be wearing a Seahawk uniform this summer?
This is an attempt to answer some of those questions. Tim Ruskell shared at his most recent interview that the Seahawks were not that far away from contending again. He was quoted as saying, "you are not going to see a major overhaul". Ruskell insists that injuries, and "coordination" of talent are chiefly to blame for the failure on the field last season. If you look at the roster turnover on the Seahawks over the last 4 off seasons, it is easy to see why Ruskell would claim a "major overhaul" is unnecessary. Roster reconstruction has been the norm during Ruskell's tenure as GM. The question really isn't if he will add talent to the roster, but whether or not it is the RIGHT talent.
Another looming question this offseason is the impact the current economic situation will have on the NFL offseason. Major League Baseball has seemingly been impacted by the hemmorging economy. Just a few weeks away from the start of Spring Training, the list of still available free agents is staggering. Some have attributed the stagnant free agent situation in baseball to a needed correction in player salaries. Regardless, one has to consider the potential impact the economy has had on baseball, and be curious to see if the NFL will see any impact this offseason. My guess is that we probably will not see the "spending frenzy" we have seen the first few days of free agency that we have witnessed in the past.
I tend to agree with Tim Ruskell on the prospects of the Seahawks for the 2009 season. I understand that I am incredibly biased. As a fan, I want to believe that the team will contend next season. My faith in next season goes beyond my personal bias. The changes in the coaching staff will provide much needed energy and creativity. The philosophical change on defense will better utilize our talent. Attention to conditioning will help prevent injuries and allow the team to play differently when traveling to the East coast. I fully believe that the Seahawks, with the moves laid out in this plan, will win NFC West, and position themselves for another shot at the Super Bowl.
Attempting to predict what the Seahawks 53 man roster will look like going into the 2009 season is virtually impossible. It does provide a basis of discussion, as well as something to occupy our time as we muddle through the offseason.
What is the selection criterion for this offseason makeover plan?
1) This is an attempt not to predict the changes that should be made, but the decisions I believe that Tim Ruskell will make (or should make). Better yet, these are the decisions that I would make if I were Tim Ruskell, not just if I were GM.
2) Since this is an attempt to predict the moves Ruskell will make this offseason, there are some foundational principles (Ruskell-isms) that we need to follow
a. Chances are that the roster will look significantly different at the start of the 2009 season. Roster turnover has been a trademark of Ruskell's tenure as GM. The team has averaged 7.5 free agent signings from 2005 to 2008 (Holmgren averaged 3.5 per season from 1999 to 2002). During that same time period, the team released, or failed to resign almost 6 players annually. Ruskell has also made a practice of releasing underperforming or often injured players. Koren Robinson, Bobby Taylor, Anthony Simmons, Andre Dyson, Grant Wistrom, Kelly Herndon, Tom Ashworth, and Shaun Alexander were all released before the end of their contracts.
b. The front office has shared on numerous occasions their desire to fill any and all holes prior to the draft. This allows the team to follow the "Best Player Available" draft strategy.
c. Players drafted and signed as free agents will almost always follow Ruskell's desire to build a team around "character". Though there has been much debate surrounding what constitutes "character" in Ruskell's mind, we have some fairly strong indicators of what that looks like. Team discipline or legal problems seem to iliminate potential players. Ruskell seems to lean toward smart, high-motor players with a strong locker room presence.
d. When it comes to the draft, Ruskell seems to prefer multi-year starters and overall team performance. "One year wonders", or players who have had one good college season are always avoided. So are players who put up big numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine or at College Pro Days. Performance is always selected over potential.
3) The salary cap for the 2009 season is projected to be $123-$126 Million per team. This offseason assessment assumes that the Seahawks will have $23-$26 Million to spend on free agents and draft picks. This figure factors in the cap savings of the veterans released, as well as 2008 cap carryover (The Seahawks were able to carryover about $7 million of cap space from 2007 to 2008 by restructuring Womack's contract). There is little hope of getting solid salary figures anytime soon, so much of this offseason plan is based on the belief (or hope) that the Seahawks have ample room to make the moves that are most needed. The number realistically could be lower.
Resigning Seahawk Free Agents
Leroy Hill - Hill is not as valuable to the long term plans of the Seahawks as most fans believe. Many diehard Hawk fans have probably overvalued Hills contribution to the team over the past 4 seasons. Some have suggested he may even be franchised this offseason. I would be shocked if Hill is franchised. He has simply not been anywhere close to as productive as any of the other franchised linebackers over the past 5 off seasons.
One of the greatest concerns with Hill has to be his durability. He has missed at least one game to injury in each of the past 3 seasons. When a team is considering making a long term investment into a key defensive player, and into a position already heavily invested in (Tatupu and Peterson), you better get back good return for your financial investment.
The Seahawks have a few factors that will benefit them in any contract negotiations. First, because of Hill's size, many teams will not even consider him as a FA acquisition. Any team running a 3-4 defensive scheme probably would not even consider Hill as an option. That eliminates half of the teams in the NFL from consideration. Since Hill's best traits are his speed and quickness, he would tend to excel in a Cover 2/Tampa 2 Scheme. This further limits the Hill suitors. Calculate how many teams run the Cover 2 /Tampa 2 scheme; sift through those to discover teams needing an outside linebacker. My guess is that the market for Hills is very limited.
The verdict? The Seahawks will seek to establish the "market" for Hill by making an offer immediately. They know how much he is worth, and how much he is worth to them. The offer the Hawks bring to the table is probably about a 5 year, 23 Million dollar offer with modest guaranteed money. The Seahawks encourage Hill to find another offer, and explain that what they have "on the table" is the going rate for LB's with his skill-set (maybe using the Cato June's contract as a low-ball example. He signed a 3 year, 12 Million contract with Tampa Bay back in 2007). Hill walks away from the negotiating table somewhat offended, since he gotten his hopes up that he would be franchised after reading some the local fan blogs. He quickly realizes his options are severely limited, and returns to the table to get a deal done.
Leroy Hill -Resigned - 5 year, 23 Million dollar contract with a 3.25 million 2009 cap hit
(Note: The Hill arrest came after writing the above. Though I believe his arrest may have cost him a few dollars, I still believe that the Seahawks will resign him.)
Ray Willis - Willis demonstrated enough during the second half of the season to warrant considerable attention from teams looking to upgrade their line, particularly the right tackle position. It may be impossible to keep Willis if a team throws Right Tackle starters money his direction. He would be foolish to not accept the guaranteed money, and the chance to start.
The Seahawks are in a very odd situation. With Walter Jones coming off the worst injury of his career, and season ending surgery, his status is still up in the air. Big Walt believes he will be healthy by the start of training camp this summer, but he still has loads of recovery time prior to then to endure.
The Seahawks also have a lot of money already tied up in the Offensive Tackle position. Sean Locklear just signed a 5 year, 32 million contract this past offseason, and Walter Jones still has three years remaining on his contract. The Seahawks cannot afford to invest any additional money into the Tackle position until they get a clear read on Jones' status. This may not come until late this next summer.
I believe that the Seahawks will go hard after Willis, but will not overpay for him. They appreciate the on the field improvement, and desire to reward his efforts. But they also do not want to pay him right tackle starters money. The solution? All but guarantee him the starting Right Guard position, and pay him considerably more than what a back-up would make. This scenario is truly a "win/win" for both parties. Willis stays and continues to grow under coach Solari's tutelage. The Seahawks cover themselves in the event of a "doomsday scenario" - Walter Jones not able to recover, retires, or re-injures himself. Since the contract is not long term, it allows Willis to re-establish his market value in three years, and protects the Seahawks in the event that Willis fails.
Ray Willis resigned - 3 year, 9 Million dollar contract with a 2 Million 2009 cap hit.
Leonard Weaver - Jim Mora's Atlanta teams did not use the Fullback position as anything more than an additional blocker. If Mora makes good on his promise of instilling a more consistent running game, the need for a pass catching, multi-talented fullback may be zero.
The thought here is that Knapp and Mora have never had the pass catching talent at the Fullback position that Weaver brings to the table with either Atlanta or Oakland. Mora has promised to adjust the scheme (I believe he was referring to Defense, but why not stretch it a bit?) to fit the strength of the players on the roster. Weaver could add some wrinkles to the offense at Fullback, Running back, or even as an "H-back" type position.
Leonard Weaver resigned - 5 year, 10 million dollar contract with a 1.25 million 2009 cap hit
Bobby Engram - Wide Receiver will be a position of focus this offseason. Ruskell has already mentioned the need to not end up "short-handed" again this offseason. Placing enormous trust and dependence upon a group of young, unproven WR's will not happen twice.
Engram is one of the most important "characters" on this team. His influence on the field and in the locker room is of incredible value. The problem is, teams don't typically reward players for anything else than their performance on the field. Engram's contract will reflect on his performance during the 2008 season, not for his overall body of work or his locker room contributions.
Bobby Engram Resigned - 3 year 8 Million contract, 1.75 2009 cap hit
Will Heller - Heller has quietly become a very valuable member of the Seahawks offense. Heller's agent, aware of the upcoming offensive changes, and believing those changes could benefit Heller's numbers, insist on only signing a one year deal. The hope for Heller is that with an increased focus on the running game, and a greater emphasis on the TE position in the offensive scheme, Heller can "cash in" next offseason with a much more lucrative contract.
Will Heller Resigned - 1 year, $650,000 contract
Floyd Womack - Pork Chop was probably the most valuable player along the offensive line last season. In the 2008 bizarro season, the often injured Womack seemingly was the only player along the offensive line not injured.
Womack's position flexibility and consistency make him a valuable back-up. It is doubtful that other teams will offer Pork Chop starter money. Most teams would utilize him in a similar role he has played with the Seahawks. With his injury history still fresh in the minds of many teams, most will look elsewhere to fill offensive line needs. The promise of the opportunity to compete for a starting guard position lures Womack back into the fold.
Floyd Womack Resigned - 2 year, 2.8 Million dollar contract, 1.25 million 2009 cap hit
D.D. Lewis - After a one year hiatus, Lewis rejoined the Seahawks for the 2008 season, and played admirably in a reserve role and on special teams. When Leroy Hill got hurt, Lewis moved into the starting line-up, and played very well. Lewis' value to the team is in his ability back up all three LB positions.
The Seahawks are committed to resigning Leroy Hill, but not at any price. As argued above, the Seahawks know what Hill is worth on the open market, and will not overpay. Could the Seahawks resign Lewis, make him the starter, and let Hill walk? This scenario is doubtful, but is definitely an option open to the Seahawks. The Seahawks will probably try and lock Lewis up for a 2 or 3 year deal.
D.D. Lewis Resigned - 3 year, 4 Million dollar contract, 1 million 2009 cap hit
Rocky Bernard- Bernard's
performance has dropped off 2 of the past 3 seasons. His drop-off may be partially
due to the fat contract he signed following the 2005 season, or just simply
age is catching up with him. He will be 30 this spring, and typically signing
30 year old lineman to large contracts is never a good idea.
I believe the Seahawks will make a fairly low offer to Bernard. Bernard will walk away from the negotiating table convinced he is worth at least as much as his previous contract. His agent will price Rocky out of the market. When he realizes that no one else is offering anything more than what the Seahawks have offered, he returns to the negotiating table, only to discover that the Seahawks have "moved on", filled the position, and no longer have an offer.
Maurice Morris - Just don't see the Seahawks interested in resigning Morris, who essentially has been nothing more than a career back-up. At 29, Morris is rapidly approaching the age of immense production drop-off. I have the feeling that Morris believes that he is capable of being a feature back, an opinion that I am not so certain the Seahawks share. Unless Morris offers the Seahawks a significant discount, he will be playing elsewhere in 2009.
Charlie Frye - The third quarterback position has been a problem for a number of years. The Charlie Frye experiment is over. Though we really have not seen much of Frye, we have seen enough to decide he is not the long term solution. Time to bring a young project quarterback.
Koren Robinson - Robinson had a few key catches early on during his second stint with the Seahawks. Maybe he will be a training camp invite, but I just don't see him returning. With the planned upgrades on the offense, there really is no room for him.
Howard Green - After a promising preseason, Green's performance dropped off immensely during the season. He looked completely overmatched at times this season. With the needed talent infusion at DT, there is simply no room on the roster for Green.
Jason Brown - Realistically, we have little chance of signing Brown. The free agent pool of offensive line talent is a little bit thin this offseason in my opinion and Brown is at the top of my list. He is young, great character guy, smart, strong, and has position flexibility. I would be on the phone with his agent at 12:01 AM at the start of free agency, with Paul Allen's private jet ready to go.
The reason I doubt that Brown would be interested in signing with the Seahawks is because he is an East Coast guy. He is from North Carolina, and attended UNC. I cannot find any reason, other than money, that would lure Brown to the West coast. The Ravens are very motivated to resign Brown, there were rumors circulating a week ago that he and the team were close to an extension. Brown's agent probably convinced him to at least wait until the start of free agency to see what others bring to the table. At least that would drive up the price the Ravens would have to pay to retain him. The Ravens may end up being priced out of the market though.
The beauty of signing Brown is the fact that he played Left Guard during his first three years with Baltimore. He switched to Center this past season, and excelled at that position. He played both Guard and Center during his college days, so the position is not new to him. Because of his lack of speed, the center position is probably the best long term solution, but has not shown anything but excellence at either position.
Jason Brown may have cost himself a little money last offseason with his switch to full-time center. The Ravens seem set at the Guard position, with Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester starting alongside of Brown. I can't believe that the Ravens will want to pay their starting Center starting Guard money. My belief (and the hope for Seahawk fans) is that the Ravens will want to pay Brown as a top flight center, not as a top guard. We have seen the explosion of guard salaries over the past three off-seasons, and the money difference between those two positions is massive.
The Seahawks will split the difference between the two positions, and pay him just above what the Dolphins paid Justin Smiley last offseason. Part of the negotiations is the promise that Brown be allowed to compete for the starting Left Guard position this next season. This is all good; since the plan in signing Brown is that he becomes your starting LG for the next 5 years.
Seahawks sign Jason Brown, 5 year 29 Million contract - 4 million dollar 2009 cap hit
Alternate signing, Jeff Saturday
- Safety is a clear upgrade priority for the Seahawks. Replacing Brian Russell
in the starting lineup becomes a clear goal during the free agency period. Finding
the right safety at the right price is the key.
Sean Jones is a consideration here. His play has been somewhat inconsistent during his career, and his best effort has been during his contract season. Jermaine Philips also gets strong consideration. His size and speed would provide a massive upgrade at the safety position. The fact he played for Tampa Bay also makes him a possibility. Injuries to Phillips have probably downgraded him in the eyes of the Seahawks front office. Plus Phillips strength is not coverage or open field tackling. He does not sound like the ideal safety in a Tampa 2 defensive scheme (ironic since he played in Tampa). I just don't see the Seahawks being that interested in either Jones or Phillips.
Atogwe seems to be a good fit in a Cover 2 / Tampa 2 scheme, and maybe better than other available free agent safeties. The Tampa 2 scheme does not define safety roles as specifically as other schemes, essentially making the strong safety and free safety somewhat interchangeable. Having a player at both positions that can excel at multiple facets of the game becomes important.
Atogwe provides strength in multiple facets of the game, but does not seem to excel at any one of them. His interception totals over the past two seasons (13 interceptions for the '07 and '08 seasons) do not tell the whole story. Not only does Atogwe excel at coverage skills, but also doesn't mind contact.
There is a strong possibility that the Rams will slap the franchise tag on Atogwe. If so, Jones becomes target number 2.
Seahawks sign Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe, 4 year 17 Million 3 million 2009 cap hit
Alternate signing, Sean Jones
C.J. Mosley - I do
not believe the team will resign Rocky Bernard to a new contract. This will
leave the team with a rotational hole in the defensive tackle position.
Defensive Tackle is vital position to the Tampa 2 scheme. The DT needs to pressure the QB without much help. Last season, the DT position (really the whole Defensive line for that matter) failed to provide much QB pressure. Upgrading the position will be important, but since the Seahawks rotate their DT's, investing a ton of money into a part time player doesn't seem to make much fiscal sense. Nor does it make sense for the Seahawks to invest a high draft pick on a part time player. The Seahawks have demonstrated a tendency to bring in under-valued defensive tackles to fill a void. We saw this in 2005 with Chuck Darby, and 2006 with Russell Davis.
C.J. Mosley seems to fit this role. He was originally drafted by the Vikings as a DT. He was never going to see much playing time with the depth the Vikings had at the DT position, so they dealt him to the Jets in the Brooks Bollinger trade. The Jets run a 3-4 scheme, and Mosley does not fit as a traditional "nose tackle". Even though he had a productive season as DE, his long term success will mostly be seen at the DT position. Doubtful that the Jets would be willing to pay him what other teams would pay him to be a starting DT.
Mosley's interest in the Seahawks becomes much greater with the recent signing of the Jets former Defensive Line coach Dan Quinn.
Seahawks sign C.J. Mosley, 5 year 18 million 2.25 million 2009 cap hit
Alternate Signing, Jovan Haye
Shaun Cody - I believe that the Seahawks will sign one additional free agent DT, but will not have the money to make a "big splash" free agent DT acquisition. The Seahawks would love to pick up Jovan Haye. His speed and quick first step would be a perfect fit for the Seahawks defensive line. With limited financial resources, the Seahawks are forced to get creative, and go another direction.
Cody becomes a great fit for the Seahawks. He has been miss-used in Detroit (who hasn't), and still has some potential to be a productive role player in the NFL. When Cody came out of college, he was known as a high motor, high character player. Leading up to the draft, many pointed to his speed and strength, and labeled him "Can't miss". He has been a colossal bust so far. My guess is that he just has not been used properly.
The Seahawk USC connections probably won't hurt our chances (Lofa Tatupu and Lawrence Jackson). I think those two guys talk Cody into coming to the Seahawks for a chance at redemption.
Seahawks sign Shaun Cody, 3 year 4 million dollar 1 million 2009 cap hit
Nate Washington - The Seahawks will undoubtabley focus on the WR position this offseason. Expect Ruskell to not make the same mistake twice. The receiver position will be upgraded both in the draft and free agency.
Nate Washington seems to be a good fit for a West Coast Offense. He is a solid route runner, with good "yards after the catch" ability. He also has good quickness and speed. The negatives have been his size, as well as a tendency to lose concentration and make a few drops. Still not a bad resume for a mid to lower level free agent pickup.
Washington has been buried on the Steelers depth chart, and they probably have little interest in resigning him. They have way too much money invested in the position.
Seahawks sign Nate Washington, 4 year 9 million 1.5 million 2009 cap hit
The 2009 NFL Draft
Round 1 (#4) - Michael Crabtree, WR Texas Tech. If Crabtree is available at #4, I strongly believe that the Seahawks will select him. Crabtree may be the best player in the draft, and he still has upside - he will get better! About as close to a "can't miss" as you can get.
Plan B - Aaron Curry, LB Wake Forrest - Will be remembered as the best overall player from this draft. Will be a strong consideration, especially if Crabtree gone and we don't resign Hill. Curry is faster, stronger, smarter, and bigger than Hill. Nice consolation prize.
Round 2 (#36) -Alex Mack, C California - Mack is a Ruskell type player no doubt. Three year starter, smart, high motor, high character, team leader. Will fall to the top of the 2nd as teams fall in love with Unger and Wood.
Plan B - Brian Robiskie, WR Ohio State
Round 3 (#68) -Evander "Ziggy" Hood, DT Missouri - Another DT gem drops to the Seahawks in the 3rd. Just like Mebane before him, Hood will be passed over in the 2nd as teams rush to fill other needs, especially in the "skill positions". Hood is a guy the Seahawks would value MUCH higher than other teams - high character, high motor, multi-year starter, etc
Plan B - Andy Levitre, OG Oregon State
Plan C - Juaquin Iglesias, WR Oklahoma
Round 4 (#100) -Nic Harris, S/LB Oklahoma - With the strong performance at the Senior Bowl, Harris' stock may jump somewhat. My impression is that teams were really impressed with Harris, but really would pass on him since they would not know what to do with him. He is projected as a LB at the pro level, but he is undersized. Harris's best fit would be a team that utilizes a pure "Tampa 2" scheme.
Plan B - Domonique Johnson, CB Jackson State
Round 6 (#164) -Cullen Harper, QB Clemson - I am impressed with what little I have seen of Harper. Had a great junior year, but struggled some this past season. Has a few mechanical flaws, but is smart, accurate, and a good leader. Could be a great fit for the West Coast Offense. Will drop to the end of the draft because of his rather elongated throwing motion and his inability to throw the deep ball.
Round 7 (#196) -Jake Ingram, LS Hawaii - Seahawks still need a long snapper, and Ingram seems to be the best. Schmitt is likely not coming back. Why not take a late round flyer on the best long snapper available?
Mike Wahle - Ruskell has shown the propensity to release his own free agent signings when they have not worked out. Ruskell has released Andre Dyson, Jaime Sharper, and Tom Ashworth for under-performance or injuries. Mike Wahle falls into both of those categories. The experiment has failed, time to move on. Not only has Wahle failed to solidify the LG position, he has not been the locker room leader they were hoping for either. The money they save in cap space doesn't hurt either.
Chris Spencer - Spencer is a prime candidate for release. The phrases "often injured" and "under performance" have been synonymous with Chris Spencer. The offensive line was horrible early this last year, and the middle of the line was the main culprit. Granted, Spencer's play improved dramatically this past season, but his year ended in injury. Not a good sign. Because Spencer is still working off his original rookie contract, the Seahawks may save very little by cutting him. If that is the case, the Seahawks could keep him, but as a back-up (bye bye Vallos). My guess is that Spencer is done.
Olinde Mare - The "two kicker conspiracy of 2008" is almost over. It was a very strange to see two kickers on the squad week after week, especially after the injuries started to mount. I believe that the only reason the team kept Mare last year was at Holmgren's insistence. Ruskell preferred Coutu, but allowed Holmgren his kicker. My guess is that Ruskell probably expected Mare to bomb or get hurt, making his release inevitable. Neither happened. I can't imagine that the team will carry 2 kickers throughout 2009.
Seahawks 2009 Season - 53 Man Roster
Pos. Starter Back-up #1 Back-up#2 Total at position
QB Matt Hasselbeck Seneca Wallace Cullen Harper QB = 3
RB Julius Jones TJ Duckett Justin Forsett RB/FB = 5
FB Leonard Weaver Owen Schmitt
WR Michael Crabtree Nate Burleson
WR Deion Branch Nate Washington WR = 6
WR3 Bobby Engram Ben Obamanu
If the Seahawks make these
changes, I believe they will turn things around and find success again in 2009.
The needs are obvious, and upgrades are inevitable. Are the Seahawks on-board
for changes of this magnitude? We will find out shortly.
(Special thanks to Kyle Rota and Brian McIntyre for their contributions)
If you would like to email Cliff Olson, you may reach him here.